I've always wanted to live in California. I guess, given the number of people who actually live there, so has everyone else.
It could have happened a few times, but it never materialized. Was it tech that drew me in? Initially, yes. But it was the food that kept me going back. Since I didn't move to California, I instead traveled there often; for work, for pleasure, and for work some more.
About 20 years ago, I flew out to San Francisco for a job interview. It was novel and exciting to pass buildings with the names of then-prodigious software companies like Oracle and Silicon Graphics (!). It was enough to give an almost college grad starry eyes and high hopes.
The job interview was well past the dot-com bubble, yet at this one job interview, software applicants were lined up around the corner like dominoes. Was the interview challenging? Sure. But I realized as I was sitting in that small cubicle filling out a paper (!) test on the differences between pass by reference and pass by value, this wasn't where I wanted to work.
In the subsequent decades, my love of San Francisco and California never waned. While I can firmly say at this point there's no possibility for me to live there, I still envy those who can make it work—I mean, as we settled into our AirBnB a few taps on my phone and ten minutes later arrived some of the most delicious Middle Eastern food I've eaten outside of Turkey, delivered by an unnamed, unseen—and surprisingly courteous—magical delivery person.
Things In San Francisco
Unfortunately, our time in San Francisco was marred with constant, unrelenting rain. They were having one of the worst rain periods in history—though everyone kept saying to us "Bring it on, we need the moisture." I wonder if they changed their tone just a bit. Even I, who grew up in Albuquerque which has more than 310 days of sunshine a year and get giddy when even a chance of rain is possible, started to feel like things were just a little too wet.
Thankfully, croissants and coffee make it all better.
During our brief stay, I made sure to make the best of it. We stayed near Inner Sunset, and I visited Andytown for coffee every morning. Good coffee, but not stellar (I'm a coffee snob), though the friendly staff made it seem just a bit better. I loved their coffee truck and the locals walking their dogs, grabbing a coffee, and off to finish their route.
During a short respite from the persistent rain, I made a jaunt to Arsicault Bakery for their croissants—they exceeded my expectations in every way. I also loved their efficiency: three ladies up front, one taking orders, and two packing bags—I was in and out in less than 5 minutes. And frankly, the croissants were so good they lasted just about that long, too.
Sadly, thanks to our friend the rain, our time in San Francisco was cut short, and we had to start driving south as soon as possible to ensure we'd reach Los Angeles before a deluge was set to visit the area.
Heading to LA via Felton
I've driven Highway 1 from LA to San Francisco about a decade before, an enchanted drive that can hardly be captured in words. It's long and awes so consistently that you almost stop believing. Almost.
Unfortunately, because of the rain and road closures, we had to skip the beautiful drive and take inland highways. We drove south and along the way stopped off at a friend's place who lives in Felton. They were scheduled to get massive rains so we only had a day to visit, but it was enough time to visit the beach to let the kiddos play, do some short hiking, and grab lunch.
The beach was grey and the water turbulent and the wind disagreeable, but that doesn't stop kids. They had fun traipsing and splashing in the water, as kids do—even without bathing suits. We sometimes lose that as adults, the ability to push aside consequences (sand everywhere! soggy jeans!?) and how-it-should-be to just have fun in the moment. So we let them play.
After the beach, a short lunch—fish tacos, of course—and later a quick hike through a local park with mighty redwoods. We try to hike here in New Mexico often, but you don't get the same growth as we saw in California. The trees, with their massive trunks, are an acute reminder of how small we are, both in time and space.
After our short visit to Felton, on to Los Angeles.
Bread and Book Signing
I got a chance to meet up with Ken at Now Serving, an inspiring and lovely independent bookstore carrying so many wonderful cookbooks it was a dangerous place for me to even step foot into—I wanted them all. They had a few copies of my cookbook, and I thought it'd be nice to sign them in person.
If you're ever in LA, please stop by Now Serving, it's stores like these that are so rare nowadays, and it's just refreshing to walk into a small shop and ask the staff for personal recommendations. A real person who has an opinion, not an algorithm that tells you what it thinks you want to hear or what it thinks you should read. How refreshing.
Food in LA
I rented an AirBnB in downtown LA, conveniently just a few blocks from Tartine Sycamore. This is one of the most appealing things about living in a large city I don't experience at home: the ability to simply walk down the street and get amazing food.
I rose before the rest of the house most mornings to make a short walk down the street for coffee and pastry. It was the weekend, but I was surprised to see just how empty the streets of LA were during my walks—I feel like maybe it's a town that stays up late and gets up even later. I'll take it, the place was desolate save the staff preparing for what will probably be a busy Sunday brunch.
We visited family in LA, and they arranged a private ride on the Arc One, the world's first electric boat (think Tesla on the water). The boat operator and co-captain were fantastic hosts, explaining every engineering question and generally being patient with our seaward naïveté—even when the coast guard sidled up with their steel-clad boat complete with a front-mounted machine gun.
Yes, they boarded for inspection. And yet, they were surprisingly polite; with none of that staunch person-of-authority vibe whatsoever. Perhaps everyone was happy the rain had subsided just enough for us to get on the water for a few hours.
After the boat ride and cheery goodbyes, it was back to downtown LA, not far, but also at the peak of traffic, which meant bumper-to-bumper back to the AirBnB. But! The good news was dinner at L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele was on the docket, a place I've had on my radar for a long time.
I'm always keen on a good pizza. And when the menu has one, you could bet good money I'll order it. This was the special, a pizza with burrata, pancetta, olive, mushroom, and cracked pepper. It was absolutely delightful—and I ate the entire thing.
The last night in LA was commemorated with a restaurant I've wanted to eat at for I'd say 8 years, ever since I first got their cookbook and was stunned by the creativity of the dishes (and, frankly, the beauty of the cookbook itself): Gjelina. Lots of pickles, pizza, beer, and innovative savory dishes like their short rib that literally melted in your mouth. It was a phenomenal meal, though, not entirely suited for three kids running around causing havoc. Next time, an adults-only trip will be on the agenda, even if it means going solo.
All-in-all, a fun trip to California with many challenges given the rain and sick kiddos along the way—that's how it goes. Part of the joy in traveling for me is winging it and adjusting plans which inevitably cause one to stumble on things you'd normally never experience.
These days, traveling to San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles is less about tech and even more about friends and food. And I'm absolutely okay with that.